It Doesn’t Get Easier

May 12th, 2015

After I sent out an announcement of the death of a long-time parishioner and volunteer, Tom Southworth, a former colleague wrote to me: “I struggle with the number of losses associated with ministry (and realize the other perspective is gratitude for the number of connections.)”

I responded, “I totally agree about parishioners dying and you can be sure the grieving only gets worse.” As I walk around Murray Hill, I pass the apartment buildings of former members, now-deceased, and I think of how I still miss them. While the Lord provides new servants to do their work for the church and no one is irreplaceable, it is also the case that no successor is ever the same.

No one is exactly replaceable; losses are permanent. But, for that, thanks be to God! –J. Douglas Ousley


More Candidates

May 5th, 2015

Last Friday, the Episcopal Church web site announced the official nominees for the upcoming election of the next Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.

I will have more to say about this election in due course. As I have previously observed, the Episcopal Church identity or “brand” has become more confused during the reign of the current Presiding Bishop. It isn’t currently clear who of the four nominees is most liberal or conservative–not to mention, most competent. It is clear which one is a person of color and therefore would be the first non-white elected to lead the Episcopal Church. That Bishop Michael Curry is an engaging and charismatic pastor and preacher can only help his candidacy.

There are no women on the list and thus the rumor has already started that the current PB has changed her mind about not running for a second term and will have herself nominated from the floor. One may hope and pray that after eight years of decline, the bishops of our church will choose a new leader. Like the other presidential campaign of 2015, this one promises to be difficult and highly contested. –J. Douglas Ousley

Many Years Ago…

April 28th, 2015

When I was young and I heard an older person begin a sentence, “Many years ago,” my eyes would glaze over and I would begin to tune out; I doubt that I ever heard the end of the sentence.

Now as an old person, I find that I often invoke the past myself! I hereby pledge to try NOT to do this unless absolutely necessary to save life and limb. The least I can do is to try not be a boring old person.

More important, always thinking of the past keeps us from living in the present. And the present of course is where God calls us to serve and to love. –J. Douglas Ousley

One Year Later

April 13th, 2015

Tomorrow night, April 14, the Empire State Building will appear in red lights, reminding the public that most of the Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram terrorists have been in captivity for one year.

Our congresswoman, Carolyn Maloney gave a press conference today outside the UN to urge Nigerian authorities and other influential parties to press for the return of the girls. Sadly, there is evidence that some of the young women have already been enslaved or killed or given as wives to jihadis.

Still, credit is due to the #BringBackOurGirls movement and other groups dedicated to end the violence against women. Our newly-appointed assistant, the Rev. Adrian Dannhauser, who arrives at Incarnation in mid-July has been a leader in this movement in the Diocese of New York. May we keep the poor girls and other Christian victims of terror in our prayers. –J. Douglas Ousley

Jesus Lives. Really.

April 8th, 2015

One of the most interesting theological developments of recent years has been the return to traditional beliefs about the Resurrection. Following in particular the British scholar, N. T. Wright, it is not at all uncommon for biblical critics, theologians, and philosophers to argue that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

To some laymen, this will come as a surprise because they assumed that is what all Christians believe. But since the 19th century, liberal scholars have interpreted scriptural references to the Resurrection as “myth.” Scientifically-minded philosophers have pointed out that people don’t naturally rise from the dead.

But against these and other arguments, Wright points to the uniqueness of the claim and the vast array of evidence that could be cited in favor of the belief that Jesus came back to life. For example, the disciples weren’t expecting Jesus to rise from the grave, so it is unlikely they imagined his appearances out of “wish-fulfillment.” (The Gospels themselves note the fear and amazement of the disciples when they see the Risen Christ.)

Add the way we can conceive of persons occupying bodies as analogous to computer software running hardware, and it’s easier than it was 150 years ago to believe that Jesus lives. –J. Douglas Ousley.

Onward and Upward

March 30th, 2015

Although we are in the midst of the solemn days of Holy Week, I was cheered to read that Malcolm Torry, a British expert on church growth and secularization has concluded from his research that long-standing pastors bring more change than new ones. Since I am especially looking forward to parish renewal as a result of Incarnation 2020, our recent strategic plan, I’m glad that–statistically, at least–my thirty years at Incarnation won’t be an impediment to change.

Speaking of change, the same author also says that congregations firmly rooted in the Bible are less religious than those that are not, and that congregations change most when they fear change most. Interesting food for thought for us at Incarnation as we await the celebration of the New Life we have in Jesus Christ. –J. Douglas Ousley

Easter Cliches

March 24th, 2015

Every priest I know struggles with Easter sermons. Everyone has heard it all before; it’s hard to say anything new.

But, in addition, it’s also hard to wrap our minds around the event that Easter celebrates. What was “the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the Dead?” What does it mean to us, 2000 years later? What new life do we have now?

Perhaps it’s worth noting that Easter is not so much to be thought about as to be experienced. And in the experience of Holy Week and Easter, the imagination is as much an engine of inspiration as the reason.

That’s why we walk the way of the Cross with Jesus from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday and the Last Supper, to Good Friday and the Cross, and to Easter Eve and the New Fire before we arrive at the joy of Easter Day. In doing so, we go way beyond the cliches.

Happy Holy Week. –J. Douglas Ousley


God v. Allah

March 17th, 2015

At the Men’s and Women’s Group meetings at Incarnation this week, we are discussing the differences between the Christian God and the Muslim Allah.

The standard philosophical view in recent years has been that all major religions ultimately worship the same Divine Reality, though that reality is conceived in different ways and described in different language. Keith Ward, for example, says that the major religions all present “Images of Eternity;” John Hick says that the different faiths worship the same “Real.”

This benign view of the different religions has been undermined, however, by the violence of some Muslims in the practice of their faith. Allah seems to order them to do things that God would never ask Christians to do. (I have never heard of a Christian suicide bomber, for example.) This leads one to ask whether Allah really is the same God as the Christian Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

One thing is certain: skeptical journalists for whom all religion is nonsense can’t be relied upon to make theological distinctions! –J. Douglas Ousley

Don’t Postpone Joy

March 4th, 2015

I remember reading this sign years ago in a toy shop: “Don’t postpone joy.”

While the slogan has a kind of 1960’s feel to it, the idea that we should enjoy the present moment as far as we possibly can is surely good advice. As we discussed in our Lent Class on Monday, it is recommended by the new happiness theorists such as Daniel Kahneman and Paul Dolan, who use social science to recommend ways to make ordinary life more pleasing. And of course such statements as “This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will be glad and rejoice in it” are plentiful in the Bible.

I also spoke in the Lent Class about how Christian faith can help us design our lives so that we maximize joy. Not a bad subject for meditation during this season. –J. Douglas Ousley

Lenten Malaise

February 23rd, 2015

Lent is only  1/8 over and lassitude seems already to have set in. I can’t remember a year when so few people talked about what they were giving up for Lent or what activities they wanted to take on.

Fortunately, we have a series of lectures coming up on “Faith and the Emotions,” as well as a series of House Eucharists in parishioners’ homes. Both of these activities are new; I hope they will do something to relieve the boredom of Lent here at Incarnation.

Some of the malaise may stem from the unremitting bad weather of this winter. So much of our lives are indoors, it’s amazing that we care so much about the climate outside.

All the more reason to look inside–not least, to look at the state of our souls. –J. Douglas Ousley